Open source software security

Adios Windows

30 November -0001

So I finally kicked Windows to the curb at home yesterday. It's part of an ongoing experiment and my way of celebrating the Windows Vista release. Actually, I've been crushing on this project for my MCIT course at Penn and my home workstation keeps crashing. I get up and go to grab a snack and when I come back the machine has rebooted (and been so ungracious as to not even save any of my work). After this went on for several days I finally decided to investigate. Well, actually, that's a bit of a misrepresentation. I looked at what paltry logs Windows offers and they didn't have any clue. Occasionally I'd get a "Windows has recovered from a serious error." when I logged back in after the reboot.

Ultimately Windows XP Pro was costing me time, and resources. I began saving any critical work onto a network share hosted by one of my Linux machines. Over time my Windows workstation became almost a thin client. It hosted applications, but any data I needed was kept on another machine. It occurred to me that I wasn't even backing my data up, I had such faith in the reliability of the other machine (which is older, and runs worse hardware) that I began to think of saving my work there _as_ backing up. The fact that Linux was such a rock solid platform finally hit me one day after seeing my computer mysteriously hang, crash and reboot four times in one day of intense work. I'm pretty sure there was some driver conflict or something happening in Windows, but the fact that I couldn't even trouble shoot it was infuriating.

So I decided, what the heck, I need a stable environment so I can do work. I was ending up booting into Windows and then opening up PuTTY sessions to other Linux machines anyway. I was doing all my work on remote Linux machines and saving it there, to the point that I was becoming frighteningly competent with vi. At this point I though to myself "this is silly, all my work is being done on Linux, it's just this one machine that I'm using basically as a portal, that runs Windows."

I sat back, thought for a bit, and did a Google for 'Wolfenstein 3D on Linux' and that sealed the deal for me. If I can play my Windows games on Linux what argument is there for not switching?

Well, several actually. I've tried switching over to Linux before and for a variety of reasons have switched back. In order to switch to Linux completely you have to have, I think, a few things going for you.

Firstly, you have to have a certain comfort level with the operating system. Linux causes quite a few headaches and things like installing fonts and getting different software and hardware configured and running properly can be a chore. Stuff like getting two monitors running under Xinerama, configuring a printer shared on a remote Windows machine, and getting your DVD player to work takes a certain amount of dedication that isn't required under Windows.

Secondly, you have to be willing to accept that your operating system is going to appear and operate differently. Many times these are little things, and often times the changes are for the better, but it still takes getting used to. When you're in a hurry or just want to get stuff done, having the patience for these small differences is difficult. Obviously, in my situation it's easier since I wasn't really "getting stuff done" under Windows, but still, there is a certain amount of resilience required to use Linux.

Thirdly you have to be ready to pay more attention to your machine. There is a trade off for the power and flexibility of Linux and that is that there is a lot of fine tuning and configuration that the OS doesn't take care of for you.

Now, I've been using Linux since 1999 and I have to say that the installers and GUI programs available have come a long way. A lot of configuration is done automatically so there's less to worry about. Also, if you're already used to using open source software like Mozilla's Thunderbird or Firefox, or Open Office, then many of the applications you use in Linux will be exactly the same. If you're like me then your primary applications (web browser and email) will be exactly the same. Because we use computers for the software, not for the operating system, this makes a huge difference. It's much easier to sell an alternative platform when the applications are the same.